AP Sports Writer
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Jim Boeheim slowed as he pedaled the stationary bicycle inside the sparkling new Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center, his mind racing back more than three decades.
"It was the premier rivalry during the history of the Big East," Boeheim said while contemplating the end of an era. "At one time, for a 10- or 15-year period, it was probably the No. 1 rivalry in the country. It's had a lot of emotional games, a lot of close, tough, hard battles right down to the end. It's really been a great rivalry for both schools."
Boeheim was talking about Georgetown-Syracuse, a rivalry unmatched in its heyday in the 1980s when the Big East Conference was in its infancy. A rivalry that will have a different feel after this season when Syracuse leaves to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"It's not the same when you're not in the same league," Boeheim said. "It will never be the same."
The teams have played 87 times since 1930, and 20 games have been decided by two points or less, 39 by five or fewer, and 12 that have gone to overtime.
They meet for the final time in the Carrier Dome as conference members on Saturday. That's the reason students have been camped out all week to be part of an NCAA on-campus record crowd of 35,012 that will transform the stands surrounding Jim Boeheim Court into a raging sea of orange.
The special feeling for the home fans can be traced to a snowy February night in 1980, when former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. became the man Syracuse fans came to despise.
The Big East had formed May 31, 1979, with Syracuse, Georgetown, Boston College, Connecticut, Providence, St. John's and Seton Hall as charter members. Boeheim was in his fourth season as head coach of the Orange and on the fast track to stardom with 95 wins on his brief resume when the Hoyas came to town Feb. 13, the eve of the opening ceremonies for the Lake Placid Winter Olympics.
It was the end of an era then, too -- the last game in the imposing atmosphere of Syracuse's Manley Field House. Opponents always dreaded playing at Manley, a dusty arena encircled by a dirt track that opened in 1962, which was Boeheim's freshman year. It seated 9,500, including a rowdy student section aptly dubbed "The Zoo." Boeheim was unbeaten there as a head coach and wasn't fond of the impending move to the cavernous Carrier Dome, which was under construction and would open later that year.
"You remember how close everything was. It really was a zoo," recalled Larry Kimball, Syracuse's sports information director at the time. "We truly had a home-court advantage. That's what home courts were all about in those days. The student section was right on top of the visiting team's bench. There was tension. There was a lot of swearing. Yes, at times they were embarrassing. But that wasn't just SU basketball. Those were the times."
And they were becoming oh-so-good for the Orange. Syracuse was 22-1 and ranked second in the nation, and had won 57 straight games at Manley, outscoring opponents 95.7 to 70 during the streak. They had just dispatched archrival St. Bonaventure 107-82 three days earlier, in part thanks to that daunting home-court advantage.
"We'd come out for the jump ball, and walking toward center court everybody is standing up and stomping their feet like 10,000 kettle drums," said Roosevelt Bouie, the team's leading scorer that season and with Louis Orr the cornerstone of Boeheim's first seasons as head coach. "In the pit of your stomach, it was so loud we used to think, 'We've got to score as fast as we can before we go deaf.'
"After I got there, the first game I remember thinking, 'Thank God I came to Syracuse.' I would never have wanted to play here (as a visitor). It would have been crazy."
Thompson, a star at Providence and a backup in the NBA to the great Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics before turning to coaching, had guided the Hoyas to a 71-70 victory over the Orange at the Kodak Classic in nearby Rochester, N.Y. in December 1974, when Boeheim was an assistant to Roy Danforth. This would be Thompson's first and only trip to Manley, and the big guy, in his eighth season with the Hoyas, was unfazed.
On game day, students waited in line nearly 8 hours, and when 250 tickets went on sale in the morning they were gone in 5 minutes.